Buzzing underneath: Wisteria, the bees, and the fly

When you look at this picture, what do you see? wisteria.jpg

When I look into this painting I see pieces of my family’s home.

I see my mother and how she loves wisteria; how she tends it so carefully; how she protects it every year from the freeze. In Texas the freezes may come far between and at strange times. If we can we protect what we love.

When I see this painting I also see through my father’s eye, for he took the photograph on which my painting is based. I look through his eyes and notice how he sees a story in everything.

Some people see other things.

To some it looks beautiful and calm on the surface. Soon, this tree will be getting ready for its annual sleep, when it will look – for months—like a dead thing. But at a certain time of spring, its glory may return (if my mother saves it). And it will become alive with something you don’t see:

At a certain time of year, if you wandered nearby and stared closely, then underneath and within and all around the blossoms that seem like you could just touch them, this tree would again be swarming with bees.

So there are those of us who wouldn’t be able to lean in, to breathe deeply of its fragrance.

There are those of us with life threatening allergies to bees!

And some of us derive our fear not from specific allergies – and to us the stimulus is not exactly the same as poisoning us – but is still just as scary. Perhaps this can be overcome. Perhaps I can use my behavioral skills to get you closer and closer to a bee. Perhaps you’ll hold one in your hand, someday.

But for a moment I just appreciate the reasons some people are scared to approach what others find beautiful, and can love without abandon.

Some troubles are only seen underneath layers of other showy blossoms.

Some are not seen at all.

I think “showy” is such a descriptive word. During certain childhood years of mine, mom studied botany and carefully “keyed out” plants on the dining table, painstakingly identifying each tiny part, comparing each to a photo in her book, making her own drawings and descriptions. And this was just fascinating to childhood me.

Truly, it did not reduce my wonder at their beauty—to discover all the names and parts and the inner workings.

If anything, it heightened it.

Today sometimes I think about that when I appreciate the wonderful complexity that is a person.

Sometimes “behavior analysts” are thought to be incapable of appreciating the emergent wonder that is behavior! But naming all the functions, carefully looking at how the environment exquisitely shapes the behavior of a little child growing up, this only increases my fascination with people and the beauty in each person.

Each child’s history includes millions of moments, genetics, their surroundings, and more… all the things that made up their world.

Buzzing underneath: But why?

Something erratic and buzzing intruded on my thoughts this morning, startling me out of my contemplation while driving to see my client.

No longer focused on the road (and the flowers I’m painting this week), I looked around frantically to isolate the buzzing sound.

It was just a fly.

But for a few moments I was pretty distracted!

I was undaunted to get him out, whatever I did. It took a little while. I noticed a slight elevation in my heart rate, a lapse in my concentration.

And it was just a fly.

What if it was a bee and I was allergic? I imagined myself allergic to something, in that closed space with me, and me, driving, unable to get myself away.

Recently I watched a boy in a 2nd grade class who had been labeled with “ADHD”.

He moves a lot.

He can’t sit still.

He’s pretty “oppositional” and “defiant” too.

He gets distracted. He argues. He picks fights. And he never ever brings completed homework to school.

But I know a secret.

He moves a lot… between family members.

Some of them yell and hit each other.

Sometimes they sleep in their car.

Sometimes it gets impounded. I don’t know where they sleep then.

Sometimes they don’t eat much at night.

And like the flowers I love, which is my luxury to do because of my happy childhood, many of his “behaviors” are showy.

And you know what? They mask what’s underneath.

This series of trauma-informed behavior support continues with a few more “masks” in upcoming articles – such as when physical aggression masks a medical challenge, or verbal aggression masks brain injury. We’ll talk more about what we can do, and discuss the important ideas behind “differential diagnosis” and differentiating local function from historical function.

The past few years have seen an increase in child psychiatrists and pediatricians who discuss the possibility of mistaking the symptoms of serious childhood adversity for ADHD. Do we teach to sit still and medicate? Do we provide more recess? Or do we look deeper and see how we can help families, educators and teams?

A related “cusp” for educators and behavior analysts might be conducting an appropriately rigorous or well rounded functional behavior assessment before jumping into treatment. Even if we must be brief, we can ask important questions and include important people. This could make possible many next steps that would not have otherwise occurred.

See you soon, friends.